Praying the Stations of the Cross while acting it out for others has brought many teenagers at St. Jerome Parish in Phoenix closer to Christ. That’s especially true for the two young men who shared the role of Jesus this year.
John Carnicle and Chandler Stubbs split the roles of Jesus and Simon during the youth group’s Living Stations of the Cross. Carnicle played Jesus for the parish’s junior high and confirmation students on Palm Sunday and Stubbs will take the role on Good Friday.
Both expressed interest in playing the role as early as last summer — a good seven months before weekly rehearsal was scheduled to begin during Lent. That attitude was a marked change for Stubbs who admitted he was basically “voluntold” freshman year to be part of the production.
“After the first time I got hooked into doing it every year,” Stubbs said.
He found it to be a more intimate experience of what Jesus, the soldiers and the crowd went through on the first Good Friday. Stubbs also realized that a simple hour or so of his time could visibly move so many in the audience to contemplate Christ’s suffering. Audience members, he said, experience everything from crying to a sense of joy.
A strong emotional connection even overtook Camille Cook, who portrayed Mary in both productions. She was genuinely crying by the 13th station when Jesus was taken down from the cross. Carnicle could relate.
“I didn’t expect to get such an emotional connection to it. You feel so much closer to Christ. It’s not even close [to what He experienced], yet you’re feeling what He felt — all the ridicule and everything,” Carnicle said.
The 17-year-old spent three playing a soldier during the Living Stations of the Cross, but grew in his respect for Jesus after portraying Him. Knowing they would play the part all school year also inspired both young men to become stronger role models in the parish and in their personal lives.
Once Stubbs — who became a Catholic as a freshman — learned his baseball coach at Moon Valley High School was religious, the two began a team prayer before a game once and now say one at weekly team dinners before the game.
“It got to a point where a couple of weeks we had a Bible study for whoever wanted to show up, Stubbs said. Half the team came.
“They’re leaders and they’re very passionate about their faith,” said Julie Wollschlager, a longtime volunteer with the youth group.
Stubbs even represented the parish nationally last summer during a Life Teen youth conference. He raised enough money for the journey that he was able to bring Carnicle along too.
Wollschlager, who writes the audio reflection that accompanies each station every year, loves the fourth station when Jesus meets His mother. A mom herself, she can relate to the Blessed Mother’s anguish, and then again later on when Mary holds her Son’s lifeless body.
“I’ve lost a child, so I’ve held a child that was dead, so that part always gets me,” Wollschlager said.
She hoped those who viewed the living stations discovered Christ’s love for them and realized that He will carry them through any tough time.
The young men who played Jesus said the 11th station where He is nailed to the cross was the toughest for them. Both cited the awkwardness of yelling on cue.
“As soon as I was done yelling, I could hear people jolting and all of the commotion in the crowd,” Carnicle said.
He also noted the final station being a bit emotional. Carnicle laid at the foot of the altar covered in a simple white sheet while the audience watched film clips of Jesus’ crucifixion backed by live music. Carnicle finally had a chance to show his own emotions instead of Jesus’ and admitted to crying.
“I was afraid I was going to soak through the sheet,” he said.
Stubbs found the 11th station the most powerful.
“It shows this ordinary guy just died on the cross for us just to save us from whatever was going to happen,” Stubbs said.